This trip won’t be the first time I’ve been to Japan, and I certainly hope it isn’t the last. I went to Japan in 2005 as a part of the 4-H/LEX exchange program. See – in 2003, we decided to host a Japanese exchange student for a month.

Kana and familyHer name was Kana, and she’s the one in the middle. We had a blast together, and when I decided to go to Japan, her family graciously let me stay with them. So I went to Tokyo for my month-long homestay! The picture above is from the day I arrived. My okaasan (Japanese mom) is on the left, and my imouto (younger sister) is on the right.

Here’s a picture of my otousan, or Japanese father:

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I was very lucky to have a Japanese father that, contrary to stereotypes, was often at home and engaged with his family. They took me to their home, which was an apartment with tatami mats. Now, there are three cardinal rules when going to Japan, which I fortunately knew before going:

1. Never blow your nose in public. Ever.

2. Take your shoes off when going into the house, or other designated public areas. (Addendum from personal experience – if you have to carry your shoes, DON’T drop them on the floor.)

3. Never get soap in the bathtub. Wash everything off outside.

But, I found out immediately, these rules weren’t enough. They needed more, things like:

4. Don’t push buttons on Japanese toilets unless you know what they’re for.

Or this one:Japan 573 5. Take off the house slippers and wear bathroom slippers if you ever see them. Then change back when you’re done.

I had many thrilling, fascinating experiences while I was there. One of the first was a visit to the Meiji shrine, located in Tokyo. This was the first shrine I visited, so I had to learn what to do when entering.

Japan 023The entrance torii (gate) to the shrine.

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When you enter the shrine, you have to wash your hands and, sometimes, your mouth.

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The next entrance to the shrine.


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The actual shrine! It was quite interesting…


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…and there was a wedding procession going on! It was very cool to see a Shinto wedding up close – I’d never dreamed of seeing anything like that.

Anyway, I’ve jabbered long enough. I’ll talk more about my trip later. 20 days until liftoff.